Growing up, I made mistakes, but my parents loved me through each and every one of them. When I messed up they forgave me and let me try again.
“Service resistant” is often used to refer to long-term homeless and it is commonly thought, They want to be homeless. After interviewing thousands of homeless, I say this is false. Years of evolution have taught us that humans will take the path of least resistance. What are we as a society doing wrong that the best option for these people is the streets? Program curfews and oppressive rules are a big part of the problem, I believe.
When you go home are you told what to eat? Do you have to go to a central neighborhood office to request to watch a movie? Are you allowed to have friends over only once a month? Do you have a spouse or kids? Would you leave your house if you were told they couldn’t stay with you? What if every mistake you made ended up getting you kicked out of your house? These are just a few examples of actual program rules.
I constantly remind my staff to give our homeless clients unlimited second chances. I have a 60-something-year-old client I’ll call Josh. He made some mistakes in his youth and got into drugs. He was convicted of a felony in the late 1980s. We met two years ago. He had been homeless off and on for 30 years, unable to outrun his past.
Josh, who’s a veteran, is cranky and doubted my ability to help him, but after some urging he agreed to work with me. Our first blunder happened as we tried to get his Nevada ID. While waiting on his birth certificate to come in the mail, Josh got arrested and taken to jail for being a felon with no ID. After a year of struggles he finally got into housing. Volunteers furnished his new apartment. But after six months of struggling to follow rules imposed by his case manager, things came to a head. The case manager got a key and entered the apartment after hearing noises, believing Josh was avoiding him. Josh was observed having sex in his apartment by his case manager and was immediately exited from the program.
He was placed in another program and walked out after finding he would have to share a room with nine other men. He was promised housing through a third program, but was unable to pass the background check and again ended up on the streets. Finally, a glimmer of hope came when the VA offered to help him. Josh was taken to detox on a Friday; there were no available beds, so he was back on the streets. Over the weekend his wallet, with the ID we’d worked so hard to obtain, got stolen.
Two weeks later I got an email from the VA stating they couldn’t help him because he had no ID. One staff member from another housing provider said to me, “Josh does have a past.” I replied, “He made a mistake over 30 years ago. Isn’t it time we forgive him?”
Did your parents, teachers or friends ever forgive you for doing something wrong? Isn’t it time that we as a society start forgiving the homeless and give them second chances?
Formerly homeless, Merideth Spriggs is the founder and chief kindness officer of Caridad, a homeless-service provider based in downtown Las Vegas. She can be reached at email@example.com.